Sometime last year, my husband and I watched a food documentary show on Netflix called Ugly Delicious. The show’s description states “All the flavor. None of the BS. Star chef David Chang leads friends on a mouthwatering, cross-cultural hunt for the world’s most satisfying grub.” The very first episode of season one is focused on pizza, and spends a great deal of time focused on the traditional Neapolitan style of pizza making. Watching the show made my borderline obsess over finding the best Neapolitan style pizzas I could find in any city I’ve visited since – and last fall I was thrilled to learn we have an amazing Neapolitan style pizza baker right here in town. If you’ve not yet heard of Brick L’Oven Pizza, I’d love to introduce you today! And if you have, stick around because the story behind this local business is a great one.
I interviewed Brick L’Oven’s owner, Jasmine Nale, about how she got started making pizza and what it takes behind the scenes to prepare delicious, wood-fired pizzas as she does every weekend at Zivelli Winery, located about 10 minutes west of the 99 in Fresno.
FresYes: Can you share with readers a little bit about yourself, and how you got started making pizza?
Jasmine Nale: I’m a Valley native, born and raised in Kingsburg. The way my family spent time together was through cooking and eating. My dad had a garden filled with fresh vegetables and fruits and we cooked from scratch whenever possible–in fact, we were rarely allowed to eat out!
While attending Fresno State I was thrilled to find out they had a whole program dedicated to Food Science and quickly switched majors. Around the same time, I met Chef Jason Ruffoni of Ruffoni’s Artisan Pizza while he was serving at my boyfriend’s (now husband) family winery. He learned of my passion for culinary arts and asked me to join the team.
A couple years later he had to leave the business and asked us to purchase his equipment and carry on the trade. It was a scary leap at age 24 but the opportunity was too good to pass up and the pizza pairs so well with our family wine!
FY: How does your pizza style differ from others people may be familiar with?
JN: First, and most importantly, the dough. The dough is made in the traditional Neapolitan style (where pizza was invented!) with four simple ingredients: double zero flour (a finer, higher protein flour), water, salt and yeast. It is considered a “high hydration” dough, or high water content to flour ratio. This allows the pizza to withstand the high heat of our wood fired oven, ranging from 650-700F. When the temperature is perfect, the pizza will cook in 2 minutes or less. The high heat and fast cooking time results in a crusty exterior and an airy and soft interior. We use almond wood, which burns quickly, cleanly and HOT.
This combination of delicate dough and high heat is hard to replicate–most pizza places will have very thick, doughy crust or crunchy, cracker-like crust. Neither are inherently bad–I enjoy every type of crust, it just depends on the mood.
FY: Brick L’Oven offers amazing brick oven pizza on location – what were some of the challenges you had to overcome logistically to make it possible?
JN: Oh my goodness, this is the challenge. Keeping the delicate dough cool enough to prevent it from becoming a hot sticky mess, estimating the amount of wood we will need, how much time the oven needs to get to that perfect temperature, and changing weather that affects it all.
FY: Take us through your day a bit, behind the scenes – when do you have to start prepping for a Zivelli day.
JN: The dough is made 1-3 days ahead of time, ideally it would always be two but that just isn’t possible every time. One to two days prior I pick up all the ingredients and I try to source locally whenever possible. I cannot wait for all the fruit stands to open up! The day of, I arrive at Ziveli 2-3 hours before serving to start the fire in the oven. Then I prep all the ingredients.
FY: What is your personal favorite pizza topping combination and what are the most popular among your customers?
JN: Pepperoni, mushrooms, and I can’t believe I’m saying this since I’ve disliked them for most of my life but…olives! The most popular is definitely the Margherita with fresh mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. Customers love getting to try the seasonal specials as well. Last summer’s special was Nectarine, Prosciutto and Sweet Corn and customers went absolutely crazy for it.
FY: What’s ahead for Brick L’Oven – what are some of your goals for the coming years?
JN: You may see a secondary pop-up location this year! Down the road, I would love to have my own kitchen. I am blessed to have a commissary for now but I dream of having my own space!
Brick L’Oven Pizza is baked fresh and available to order every Saturday and Sunday from 12pm to 5pm at Zivelli Winery located at 5840 N. Biola in Fresno. (PS: Zivelli is a beautiful winery with both outdoor and indoor spaces to enjoy and a number of delicious wines to taste and purchase!)
You can also schedule Brick L’Oven to cater your special event! Learn more on their website, and follow Brick L’Oven on Instagram to keep up with new menu offerings and updates on a future, possible second location.
Image credit: Jasmine Nale/Brick L’Oven